Kidding on the Square

As usual, The Onion gets it right.  Check out its portrait of social service agencies, "Nonprofit Fights Poverty With Poverty."  And if you dismiss as laughable the notion of an agency with an annual budget below the federal poverty line pledging to end suffering through its creativity in using donations of surplus toilet-paper rolls, you must be new.

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2 Responses to “Kidding on the Square”

  1. Maureen O'Connor Says:

    Sadly, the Onion story is only a tiny bit exaggerated—both in terms of the realities of existence for many nonprofits and the degree to which they are/are not aware of the insanity of their circumstances.

    Just today I got a tour of an agency that was founded as a settlement house in the 1890s and now serves a predominantly low-income Latino community. (The agency called me—grantwriter for hire—because their in-house guy jumped ship and they had deadlines to meet and no staff time to spare.)

    As we peeked into cramped offices and program spaces on the third floor (no elevator), the development director emphasized that the small rooms we were seeing used to be staff residences, with just a sink and a bathroom down the hall. Hmm, quaint. Then she talked about the adult literacy program that was ending—not because it was no longer needed but because state funding dried up. We went to the roof and saw kids with rich compost they’d created, tending beds of veggies and herbs with which they’ll learn to cook—but only for the next month or so, because the funder has decided to focus on the suburbs now. (As the development director described this to us in front of the kids, their faces went from gleeful to glum.) And so on. What a quaint way to run a multi-million dollar enterprise that thousands of families rely on for basic services and opportunities.

    I think most nonprofits do an amazing job of keeping their operations going on revenue cobbled together from myriad unreliable sources. It’s not for the faint of heart. (Would healthy for-profit enterprises allow themselves to rely on such finicky markets? I don’t think so.) But it’s the kids and families in under-served communities that really get their chains yanked. I guess it’s a valuable zen lesson to them: don’t get too attached to that program that seemed to open up new possibilities for you—blink and it may be gone.

  2. Kelly Kleiman Says:

    The funder’s decision to focus on the suburbs, and the state’s funding cut-off, both remind us that we’ve got to grow individual giving if we want any stability at all. It’s not a solution–a Democratic House, Senate and President are the solution–but it’s something to try.

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